Avgeeks are familiar with cargo aircraft and airlines, from UPS and FedEx which carry a variety of packages and freight, to outside providers such as Volga-Dnepr who specialize in outsize freight that won’t fit on typical aircraft freighters (think oversized vehicles, aircraft/spacecraft engines, mining equipment). But in 1978, McDonnell Douglas proposed their DC-10 aircraft as an airborne car transport for Detroit, specifically Chrysler.
Deliver Fuel Efficient Cars Faster
Light vehicle sales (think compact cars) were on the rise, and specifically with Chrysler’s vehicle line-up, McDonnell Douglas in cooperation with Zantop International Airlines pitched the DC-10 as the ultimate and fastest transport to move vehicles between the coasts. Founded in 1946 as an airborne freight operator for the auto industry, Zantop Air Transport operated a number of Curtiss C-46 aircraft after the war to transport parts and materials for the Detroit auto makers. It sold the operation in 1967, but after the new venture went bankrupt a few years later, the Zantop family restarted the airline as Zantop International Airlines based in Detroit, Michigan. Zantop operated a fleet of Douglas freighter aircraft from the DC-6 to the DC-8, carrying freight not just for the auto makers, but other businesses as well.
Speedy Delivery For the Dodge Colt
Where Chrysler fits into this picture is with the Dodge, which sold vehicles that were considered ‘mid-range’ priced cars. The Dodge Colt was marketed under the Dodge name from 1971-1994, but it was not an American built vehicle. It was a sub-compact car manufactured by Mitsubishi Motors in Japan. The vehicles were built in southern Japan, Okayama to be exact, for Dodge. The vehicles would then be loaded onto large ships which carried the completed vehicles to the west coast of the United States (Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle). From there the cars would be transported to key points in the U.S. for distribution to car dealers. In Hamtramck, Michigan just outside of the major city of Detroit, Chrysler/Dodge was manufacturing the Dodge Aspen (which was also branded the Plymouth Volare), another compact vehicle (albeit larger than the Dodge Colt).
Burn Some Dinosaurs, Save A Week
McDonnell Douglas cleverly put together a proposal to use the DC-10 to speed up transporting vehicles between coasts for distribution. On the outbound flight from Detroit, Michigan the DC-10 would be loaded with 23 Dodge Aspens plus 37,000 pounds of auto parts (for repair) and head to one of three ports (Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles), and on the return trip carry 51 Dodge Colts and 7,200 pounds worth of parts. This would save nearly 7 to 10 days from the arrival into the port until cars were transported, but Chrysler-Zantop would need to run two DC-10s with 2 flights a day each to cover shipping all the inbound cars (assuming they’d want to airlift the nearly 5400 cars inbound each month). The turnaround time was listed as 78 minutes (around 50 minutes to unload/refuel, and 20 minutes to reload and push back).
McDonnell Douglas offered two DC-10-30 aircraft: the Convertible Freighter which could be reconfigured to passenger configuration, and an normal freighter. Zantop could run the Convertible Freighter in passenger configuration for their other business when car transport wasn’t needed. They showed an all economy passenger configuration with 345 seats at 9 abreast, with varying 33, 32, and 31-inch pitch setups. Alternatively, the DC-10 could be equipped to carry 22 large cargo pallets or 30 smaller cargo pallets.
Colts Were In Demand But It Was Still A Crazy Idea
It may seem ludicrous to transport compact cars via air transport, but because of the oil embargo only a few years earlier, gas prices were still on the rise; so was the demand for fuel efficient cars which the Dodge Colts were. But to load them up and transport them via air transport didn’t make sense and that’s why this was nothing more than wishful thinking on McDonnell Douglas’s side. The expense of an widebody aircraft not to mention the crews and maintenance, never mind the fuel cost makes a proposal like this a non-starter.